Betrayal in Berlin by Steve Vogel: During the Cold War, the West was desperate to know what the Soviets were up to. That need for intelligence led to an audacious plan to build a tunnel in Berlin and tap into the East German telephone lines through which calls between Moscow and Berlin flowed. Vogel tells the fascinating story of how the closely guarded tunnel project came about, how CIA officials dreamed it up and carried it out, and how British double agent George Blake betrayed the tunnel project to the Soviets. Based on interviews and declassified documents, Vogel makes vivid this Cold War project and era.
The Passion Economy by Adam Davidson:Planet Money’s Adam Davidson has a knack for explaining complex economic matters simply. He uses that storytelling gift to tell about ordinary people who are succeeding in today’s economy by paying attention to their passions and linking what they have to sell with people who want it. Fifty years ago making that match would have been impossible, but Davidson shows how new technologies and global trade allow today’s entrepreneurs to “find those people, spread thinly around the globe, who most want what we have to offer.” He provides thought-provoking rules and on-the-ground reporting to show those rules in action.
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute: This 1950 novel appeared recently on a list of the best novels about economics. It tells the story of a young British woman who inherits money and has to decide how to use it. She survived the Japanese occupation of Malaya—a gripping part of the novel—and wants to help the women in the village who saved her. She also wants to find the Australian soldier who risked his life for her. Finally she turns her attention to turning an isolated Outback station into a thriving town like Alice. Caution: Casual racism reflects British attitudes of the time—but is jarring today.
The Second Sleep by Robert Harris: A young priest, Fairfax, takes a harrowing journey to the village where an older priest has died. It’s his job to perform the burial and then return home. But he discovers that Father Lacy owned forbidden books, books that would mark him as a heretic. Fairfax is ambitious, the books are dangerous, and yet he is drawn to them and to solving the mystery of Father Lacy’s death. Harris is a vivid writer who creates wholly believable worlds. This novel offers many twists and turns on its way to a surprising end. Caution: brief sexual situations.
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Not even mostly dead
Three optimistic views of the Christian future, and a dose of pessimism for America
by Marvin Olasky
Despite all the dire forecasts about millennial religious views, Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley’s The Twentysomething Soul (Oxford, 2019) offers optimism. Christians overwhelmingly want to have children, and “over 70% of Nominal Evangelical twentysomethings and over 80% of Active Evangelicals plan to join churches when they have children.” The authors’ forecast: “We expect this branch of American Christianity will maintain its 30% share of the young adult population.” But will those parents emphasize believing as well as belonging? Christian Smith and other authors of Religious Parenting: Transmitting Faith and Values in Contemporary America (Princeton, 2020) say “parents tend to undersell religion to their children” out of fear that teenagers will revolt: “Older children as ever-potential rebels end up holding the greatest negotiating power when it comes to doing religion.”
Glenn Stanton is optimistic in The Myth of the Dying Church (Worthy, 2019). He says we hear about decline, but here’s what increased from 2007 to 2014, according to polling: The percentage of Americans who say their faith is “very important” to them. The percentage who identify as Christians and say they pray daily, beyond a church service. The percentage of regular church attenders who say they speak about their faith with others. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they read the Bible at least once a week. The percentage who say they attend a small group for prayer, Bible study, or other religious education.
Cal Thomas is pessimistic in America’s Expiration Date (Zondervan, 2020). He sees education as part of the problem and tells parents, “Remove your children from government schools and either homeschool them or send them to good Christian schools. Do not send them to universities that have largely become propaganda centers for secular progressives.” Linking religious and political decline, he asks, “What makes those promoting supposedly righteous America think we can escape judgment? ... America is headed for foreclosure. We are drowning in financial debt and submerged under an immoral tsunami.”
Gene Edward Veith in Post-Christian(Crossway, 2020) says a global religious explosion means the postmodern world is becoming post-secular. Some say a post-Christian trend signals reversion to a pre-Christian, pagan worldview, but Veith is not sold about that notion, particularly after traveling in Scandinavia. Now that African Christians have disappointed liberal U.S. and British prelates by preferring God’s Word to Karl Marx’s, young Christians in northern Europe are doing the same.
I thought Angela Denker’sRed State Christians (Fortress, 2019) would be another journalistic foray into America’s heart of darkness. Her dislike for the Christian Right is clear: “Jesus’s message of love and sacrifice has been perverted to lift up power and hatred.” Still, she does try to show “the humanity and diversity” of those with whom she disagrees, and admits her surprise that the annual March for Life in Washington is not “a thinly veiled Trump rally” with “chants of ‘Build the wall’ and ‘Lock her up.’”
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Books of counsel
by Charissa Koh
Passions of the Heart: Biblical Counsel for Stubborn Sexual Sins
John D. Street
Street, a Biblical counselor, offers hope for escape from enslaving sexual sin. He helps readers find the root of their sin and take Biblical action. As a seasoned pastor who has seen it all, he includes many anecdotes from his counseling experience. The help in this book will only benefit Christians who are ready to work hard and rely on God. Street writes in the first chapter, “If you are more concerned about the consequences of acknowledging your sin than of the purity of your own heart, then your heart is not ready for change.”
Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms
Despite its many joys, motherhood can be lonely, thankless work. Fox reminds fellow mothers that the gospel offers hope for the daily challenges of raising kids. Her book covers struggles like worry, exhaustion, discontentment, and addressing children’s sin. She reminds moms that they are not alone and that the Bible provides a way to overcome these temptations. Each chapter is short and accessible, with a prayer at the end to help moms apply the truth to their situation. Fox shares personal stories and promises from Scripture, while challenging mothers to renew their thinking according to God’s will.
Pursuing a Heart of Wisdom: Counseling Teenagers Biblically
John C. Kwasny
Many assume bad decisions and sinful habits are just part of being a teenager. But the Bible provides everything that we—including teens—need to live godly lives. Kwasny offers a topical resource to help parents and youth leaders teach teens to think Biblically about common struggles. He dives into 15 issues teens often face, including anxiety, identity problems, pornography, and eating disorders. Each chapter gives examples of how the problem can appear, questions to ask, and Biblical principles to apply. Kwasny doesn’t shy from hard topics and gives parents Biblical hope for their teens.
Don’t Lose Heart: Gospel Hope for the Discouraged Soul
Pastor Jason Meyer gives Christians good news: “The reasons to take heart are greater than the reasons to lose heart! In other words, we can defeat discouragement because it is only a half-truth.” The first half of the book is “How to Fight for Sight,” and the second is “How to Defeat Despair.” Meyer gives memorable analogies and simple but powerful truths: Christians should “check the score” when the devil gets a victory in their lives, remembering ultimately he is already defeated. This short, 147-page book is warm and readable and a helpful resource for Christians striving for joy.